MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte has allowed more than a thousand health workers to leave for work abroad, in an exception to a controversial ban meant to keep medical professionals in the Philippines.

“The president has listened to the nurses’ concerns,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a briefing on Monday. “Health professionals with complete documentation as of August 31, 2020, you have been allowed to leave for work overseas.”

Citing numbers from the Labor Department, Roque said around 1,500 nurses and other health professionals stood to benefit.

The pandemic has badly hit the Philippines’ millions-strong overseas workforce, whose remittances amounted to $33.5 billion last year. About 5 percent of over 436,000 new hires deployed abroad in 2019 were health workers, according to data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

In April, the country temporarily banned the deployment of health workers overseas — but later eased it, allowing those with existing contracts to leave. The government reasoned more medical professionals were needed to fight the pandemic locally.

Health workers in the country have complained about being overworked and underpaid. In a Reuters report last week, those appealing to the government to ease the ban called themselves “priso-nurses” because they felt imprisoned.

Filipino Nurses United, an organization advocating for nurses’ welfare, said the development was a “partial victory” — but maintained the government had to increase the salaries and benefits of nurses both in the public and private sector.

Filipino Nurses United “holds on to its appeal for the government to totally lift the deployment ban for all health-care workers,” it said in a statement. “Because if not, they are violating the basic human right of nurses for survival.”

As of Monday, the Philippines had recorded more than 290,000 covid-19 cases and almost 5,000 deaths.

The Washington Post

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